Having been a facilitator of Conscious Ageing for the past decade with members of the University of the Third Age as my participants, I felt a strong urge at the beginning of 2020.   It was the need to refocus my work from emphasising the personal growth of the individual senior and awaken my cohort to the dangers of continued climate disruption.

First Meeting of the year

So it was at our first meeting which took place at the beginning of February that I tentatively suggested to those present the proposed shift of focus.   My motivation emerged from some unknown inner forces emanating from deep within my body.   I was not able to determine why I started to liken myself to Joan of Arc, of all people.   I just felt this need to share with my friends, family and associates this intuitive feeling that each and every one of us needed to do their very best to come to terms with the dangers on our doorstep.  Civilisation which had progressed for many millennia was going to regress, and in the worst case scenario humankind as we understand it was going to undergo a major disruption.

Covid-19 comes to South Africa

It was the following month of March that the knowledge emerged that the Covid-19 virus was going to be a threat to life here in South Africa, just like the rest of the world.   It was now on my doorstep.  Until this time, it was something that was happening in China, far away from us.  So, it was just those few weeks after I had publicly announced my realisation of the association between the Covid pandemic and climate change, that this juxtaposition started to appear in the public domain.

As I look back from the present moment in July, just four months after the lockdown was announced in South Africa, I realise how my early hunches are starting to penetrate the consciousness of all around me.   I still feel a little alarmist when suggesting to people they need to take up a vegetarian diet, or dedicate themselves to a less consumptive lifestyle, or suggesting they should regularly be showing their gratitude for being protected by their comparative financial security.

Becoming a Climate Ambassador

However, I am now just one week into my global training as an ambassador for Climate Reality.   I have been exposed to the thoughts, philosophies and activism or people throughout the world who have enriched my understanding of the urgency of motivating my contemporaries to play their part in the revolution in thought and values that need to take place.

Emerging from the Social Sciences

I have always been interested in the social sciences.   I studied psychology and social anthropology for my Bachelor of Arts and subsequently was involved in education from many different perspectives.  Now I realise how all the knowledge and skills around teaching and learning, I have developed during my lifetime need to be invested in helping this disturbing transformation in climatic conditions.

Confluence of Critical Challenges

The confluence of Covid 19 with the callous death of George Floyd at the knee of the police has raised public awareness of the structural inequalities in our society.  I am starting to visualise how climate change must be part of the solution.   We need to revolutionise the thinking around our present brand of capitalism, and the manner in which our limited democracies are working.

And, a Silver Lining

For me personally there has been a silver lining to all the restrictions to which I have been exposed.    My facilitations in Conscious Ageing have been moved into the zoom room.   I have all of a sudden developed an international audience.   I have participants from South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland and America for the fortnightly discussions on Zoom   So, what a wonderful way to start working on sharing my understanding of the inter-relationship between human inequality, major discrepancies between the rich and the poor, unequal access to health and education, and denial of opportunities to the present disadvantaged group.

Moving to a Sustainable Future

Let us look at all these factors.   Ideally, they all need to be evolved and transformed to create a sustainable lifestyle on this planet.   There are models that have been developed over the last decade to show that these changes are possible.   Let us work on it together to ensure that humanity not only thrives but becomes more fair and equal going forward.

Last Sunday my daughter invited me to breakfast. She had been telling me about the delicious pancakes she makes. They are accompanied by stewed pears, naartjies, and bananas then topped with nuts, seeds and syrup. This description was indeed enticing, so I accepted the invitation with alacrity.

The Challenge Starts!

Watching her preparing for the anticipated brunch, my son-in-law comes up with a question, “How do you explain your evolution,” he asks. Well.” I responded, “My evolution is not unlike yours. I do believe that both your ancestors and mine started on the planes of the African savannas.” “What I meant,” he explains, “How is it that you have adapted so well to the Covid pandemic? You seem to have even more of a zest for new experiences than usual!”

Now I had to think quickly. What was the source of my resilience? How is it that I have managed to capitalise on the resources offered by the Zoom Room?

So I set out to think about the habits I have developed during the more than eight decades of my time on this planet. And so I came up with the following thoughts

Learning a New Language in my 30’s

“What I want to know is how it is that you have maintained the ability to learn new skills and keep in touch with what is going on in the world during this challenging period of climate change denialism, racial unrest and adjusting to the post-covid lifestyle,” Mervin reminded me

After a few moments of reflection, I managed to articulate a few possibilities. Because of the unusual circumstances of being reared in denial of my Jewish Identity, I had always felt inadequate when my friends peppered their conversations with Hebrew words I did not understand. In addition, it was disappointing, when I attended lectures and missed the nuances of the argument because of my unfamiliarity with the colloquial Hebrew terms that were part of the discussion.

When I was in my early thirties, I was unaware of the present understanding that learning a new language in your mid-life is one of the best ways of maintaining your cognitive fluency. It is by accident that I benefited from the motivation I had for social belonging.

The mastering of Hebrew writing, reading and speaking, by attending a university course in Hebrew, had an unintended and unexpected benefit. The rewiring of the brain that must have accompanied this course of learning, has allowed me to retain a better than average ability to absorb new information at my present advanced stage in the life cycle.

Knee Surgery in 1990

“But,” continued Mervin probing me further, “that does not account for the fact that you still play tennis twice a week with all those young ladies!” “That was also unplanned” I continued. It was three decades ago that I broke my anterior cruciate ligament whilst running for a short ball on the tennis court. The surgery that followed that injury necessitated a stringent rehabilitation program requiring me to cycle in the gym for 20 minutes, three times a week. This was usually followed up with some exercise on the various machines and then a swim. Not only did this work-out keep my knee strong, but it also offered me a level of fitness enjoyed by very few people at my stage of life. Retrospectively that injury, followed by a rigorous program of exercises, allowed me to benefit from an ongoing improved level of fitness.

Running a Business

Then I told Mervin how his wife, who was still busy making the breakfast, had inadvertently offered me the opportunity to gain a headstart in developing technology skills. It was 1995, a couple of years after my divorce from her father when Daniella suggested we go into business together and purchase a Futurekids Franchise. Something I would not have thought of doing on my own, but once she suggested we invest in this new business venture, my interest was piqued.

The five years that Daniella and I ran this business together, enabled me to master basic computer skills.

I qualified for the International Microsoft Drivers Licence or ICDL. This is an internationally recognised qualification providing practical training in each of the most commonly used software tools. Together with this knowledge, I managed to master the basic navigation of the internet, giving me the tools to become an independent learner.

The motivation to make a success of the business was a great incentive to master a wide range of skills, which have resulted in my ability to do research, design teaching materials and enrich my knowledge and understanding of the hobbies I subsequently developed.

The Mediterranean Diet

Mervin was not yet satisfied. “But what about your healthy diet, he enquired.” My adoption of vegetarianism, together with following closely the Mediterranean Diet, was yet another accident. I had developed an itch some few decades ago, on my upper arm. A casual suggestion by my father was that I tried cutting out meat from my diet.

Retrospectively it was a strange suggestion from a man who had no interest in dogs. However, he had heard the dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse saying that dogs who had itchy skin were treated by cutting down the amount of meat in their food. Today when there is a pressure from environmentalists to stop eating meat, I am grateful that I do not need to make any changes in my diet to comply!

Mervin is satisfied

Having offered Mervin a rationale of my accidental adoption of healthy behaviour and habits, he seemed to be satisfied. He had inadvertently offered me an inspiring opportunity to reflect on some of the positive incidents of my life. At the same time, I believe I was able to satisfy his curiosity

I had a surprise phone call this morning, Sunday, 1 December 2019. It was from Jechaim, who is the brother of my son’s wife. He lives in Amsterdam, where he is fulfilling a lifetime passion and a dream. He recently opened a Baking Lab

History of the Baking Lab

Jechiam’s grandfather was a baker in Jerusalem, and he proudly displays the key from is ancestor’s business in the entrance of the shop. While baking is in his blood, the practice of this ancient art at Linnaeusstraat 99, is very different from the manner it was performed two generations ago.

Baking Bread Today

This unusual entrepreneur is also imbued with the qualities of both an artist and a scientist. His Baking Lab explores the baking of different types of bread. What he does is to take into account modern technology and combines it with ancient wisdom?

The baking of bread is a sensory experience. It involves the tactile sensations of stirring, mixing, kneading and pouring, added to those of smell, taste and vision. Together with his staff, which includes students studying technology at the local University, he is continuously exploring new techniques to enhance their production.

Of course, Jechaim’s scientific background is also relevant to his success. He knows all about the enzymes, the temperatures and other variables which affect the quality of the crust, the texture and the look.

This contemporary baker tells us that baking bread is, “not difficult, but neither is it a piece of cake!”

But Jechaim’s phone call was not to discuss his unique business, or the reason why he keeps Wild Turkeys as pets, but to condole with me on the loss of my ex-husband.

Offering Condolences

He wanted to know how his brother-in-law was coping with becoming the new head of the family on the loss of his father. And, how the extended family was dealing with the grieving process. He then moved on to explore my relationship with my Judaism. He had heard second or third hand about my unconventional upbringing and was curious to know how I related to my heritage at this stage.

Forging my Identity

I found myself telling him about how I was brought up in denial of my own identity. Our family had come to South Africa in 1947 after the conclusion of the Second World War. My father saw this move as an opportunity to allow me to live my life without the prejudices that have been projected onto Jews through the centuries. I was sent to a church school and was enrolled as a Unitarian.

This was confusing to me, and I had little opportunity to discover the rationale. If I questioned my father about the meaning of being a Jew, I was fobbed off with the instruction that, “I do not have to worry my pretty little head,” about such things. His methodology was for my own good; he tried to reassure me. This information was not very useful in terms of helping me to form my personal identity.

Table Tennis saved the Day

It was a sheer fluke that I became friendly with some Jewish girls during my university days. I became a member of the Table Tennis team at the University of Cape Town, and there I met Debbie. Debbie planned to go on a NUSAS (National Unions of South African Students) tour. This was a six week excursion attended by 60 students from different South African Universities. In 1956, we travelled for ten days by boat on the Athlone Castle to Britain, spent four weeks in England and Europe, then returned on the Union Castle Shipping Line back to Cape Town.

Meeting my Children’s father

It was on that trip I became friendly with Marion, so when the next question from Jechiam was about the manner in which I met my ex-husband, I told him the story of a dinner party. This was given by a couple who were friends of Marion. They knew Joe, a bachelor of 32, and wanted to fix her up with him. I was also invited to this dinner where we had some overcooked Spaghetti Bolognaise – I think we arrived late!

For some reason, Joe fancied me, instead of Marion. My mother told me a couple of days later that, “A guy phoned you. He said his name was Joe Smith, but I am not sure who he is!”

So that was the beginning of a very short romance. In answering Jechiam’s further questions, I was reminded that we met in April 1959, and were married in September of the same year. No long courtships. No living together. If a girl was not married in her early 20’s, then she was on the shelf in those days.

My Road to Embracing Judaism

Joe happened to be Jewish, so I started on the road to establishing my understanding of what it meant to be a Jew. I went the academic route by taking courses in Judaica with the University of South Africa, and a course in Hebrew with the University of Cape Town.

While bringing up my children, I was in the position to play an active role in Jewish organisations which cemented my journey into my Jewish roots.

Ten years after my marriage, I was the mother of four children. Today my two girls live in Cape Town. My eldest son (Jechaim’s brother-in-law) came from Amsterdam for the funeral, and my youngest son came with his wife and daughter from London to mourn the loss of their father.

Thanks, Jechaim for allowing me to review my road back to my Jewish roots.

 

I studied psychology in the 1950’s.  It was one of my majors for my BA degree. Today I was reminded on two discrete occasions about concepts I had studied six decades ago, which had not been part of my consciousness for many years.

Two Different Reminders

The first idea was mentioned in conversation by my croquet colleague who brought up the topic of lobotomy as a cure for depression.  Later, I received in my email an article from Big Think Edge on self-actualization.

My Gut Reaction

I was aware of my gut reaction when I became cognisant of these two diverse topics.   I remembered that lobotomy had become grossly discredited, while self-actualization evoked feelings of positivity.  I needed to follow up to verify my unconscious reaction to being reminded of these two concepts.

Lobotomy

It is for good reason that the brain operation known as lobotomy would evoke a feeling of disgust.   This intrusive brain surgery, performed under local anaesthetic, involved making two incisions into the skull, just behind the eyes, so that nerves of the frontal lobes could be severed.

The aim of this procedure was to relieve symptoms of distress displayed by mental illness.  It became thoroughly discredited only after many thousands of operations in both the UK and America during the 1940’s and the 1950’s.

How Effective was this Operation?

There was no cure in those days for people who were consigned to a mental asylum.  Once a patient entered the ward of such an institution, it became a virtual life sentence.  Following this procedure, it was found that 1/3 patients improved, 1/3 became worse, and 1/3 remained the same.   No research was ever conducted, and there was no follow up to this radical and irreversible surgical procedure.

Looking back, it is incredible that the medical profession sanctioned this irreversible operation.  The neurosurgeon would cut into a healthy brain to perform this procedure which today is considered an aberration.

What will our Grandchildren think about Today’s Medicine?

It makes one stop to ask, “I wonder if we are today performing medical procedure which may be considered horrific by our grandchildren!” Maybe we are.  It could be that chemotherapy will, in the future, be regarded as unnecessarily invasive. While this cancer treatment targets the fast growing cells of the tumour, it also destructs some healthy cells such as the hair follicles.   Maybe in 50 years’ time, this cure may be judged in the same way as we judge lobotomy today!

Self-Actualisation

How well I remember being introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which culminated in the need for self-actualization.  I was excited when I first heard of this concept, and this feeling was re-evoked today.

As this diagram illustrates, it is postulated that man needs to satisfy his basic needs for food, water, and sleep at the most basic level.  When these life maintaining needs have been adequately gratified, then the next levels for safety, health and employment require sustenance. Subsequently, we have to cater to our social needs for friends and family. Having this level dealt with successfully, we proceed to achieve friendships and acquire the respect of our peer group.  Finally, we have this ultimate need for self-actualization; to achieve contentment and a feeling of fulfilment.

Latest Research on Self-Actualisation

When I received today’s email from Big Think, I was amazed to discover a report of new research performed in the past few years updating and reinforcing the merit of Maslow’s top postulated human need.

Now the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, from Columbia University, has published a study that updates Maslow’s work.  Modern statistical methods have identified ten specific characteristics that are shared by self-actualized people.

Kaufman utilized surveys of over 500 subjects and identified ten characteristics that each make a distinct contribution towards self-actualization.  They are:

  • Continued Freshness of Appreciation
  • Acceptance
  • Authenticity
  • Equanimity
  • Purpose
  • Efficient Perception of Reality
  • Humanitarianism
  • Peak Experiences
  • Good Moral Intuition
  • Creative Spirit

What is particularly interesting about these qualities is that they tie in so well with the newest research into today’s favoured field of Humanistic Psychology.  In addition, these are the qualities cherished by those of us who practice Mindfulness! Those who search for Happiness!

In Kaufmann’s words

“A good way to start is by first identifying where you stand on those characteristics and assessing your weakest links. Capitalize on your highest characteristics but also don’t forget to intentionally be mindful about what might be blocking your self-actualization. Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. ”

You can take his Test

To take the test of self-actualization yourself, go to Barry Scott Kaufman’s website.

Valuing Self-Actualisation

It is very satisfying to have the opportunity to review the manner in which the concept of self-actualization has re-emerged so many decades later.  Unlike lobotomy this concept has stood the test of time.

Enriching my Understanding

In fact, it has given me an insight into my understanding of myself.  Those of you who have been reading my blogs for the past few months may recall my ponderings regarding my competitiveness. I have often wondered why it is that at my advanced stage of life, I still need to enter competitions to demonstrate my prowess at the game of croquet.  Now I have some insight.  Of course, it is all about self-actualization!

 

When I heard that Anwar Mal was to give a lecture on, “The Gut – its Contents and Malcontents,” I knew I was in for a treat!

Whist the gut is primarily known for its role in digesting our food, I have some knowledge about recent research demonstrating the multiple function of the organs stretching from the mouth, to the oesophagus, including the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine and the rectum.     I know the gut had been called The Second Brain, and that most of the neurotransmitter called serotonin is manufactured in the gut.   So, here is my opportunity to extend my knowledge of the gut-brain connection..

Professor Mall

Professor Mall has been involved in researching the functionality of mucous at the University of Cape Town and elsewhere.   He has developed the understanding of how mucus was the ability to protect the internal tracts of the gut from the potent hydrochloric acid which breaks down our food in the stomach.

Mind/Body

Today I learned it may well be the organ which best encompasses the unifying relationship between both mind and body.   When I was at school some 70 years ago, the gut was solely an organ to be associated with food.   However research which has been undertaken during the past few decades makes us believe parts of the gut have an important role to play in our emotional and mental health.

The Language of the Gut

People have always spoken about having gut feeling.   Now we are starting to understand how the contents of your gut, which contains quantities of microbes and bacteria has a direct impact on our emotional wellbeing.   It is now said that to understand the workings of your gut is as important as your knowledge of what food to ingest.

Gut – Brain Link

Soon I discovered there was an entire branch of medical research investigating the links between the gut and the brain.   It is a rapidly growing field of study.   It has been said that research on the gut may ultimately be more promising than work on stem-cell research.

The gut accounts for two thirds of our immune system, extracts energy from our food and produces more than twenty unique hormones.

Research of Guilea Enders

One young woman who has made a contribution to the new understanding of the role of this medley of organs, is Guilea Enders who has written a brilliant book, simply  called The Gut

At the age of 17 she developed a mysterious skin condition which created sores all over her body.   Treatment recommended by her doctors was ineffective so she decided to do her own experiments. She knew that her delivery by Caesarean Section meant that her mother’s probiotic bacteria did not transfer optimally into her gut as a new born.  So, at the age of 17 Guilea was motivated to read up on the current gastroenterological research.   This led her to explore whether extra probiotics and mineral supplements to support her digestion may influence her skin condition.   Her self experiments were successful and she has now made it her life’s work to share her knowledge with the medical world.

The Kiss

To follow up on the concept of a mother transferring natural immunity to her new born child by exchange of body fluids as it exits the birth canal, I learned from Professor Mal of another exchange of fluids that can boost our immunity – none other than the intimate act of the kiss!

Role of Probiotics

I have been hearing for some time the danger of being prescribed antibiotics too frequently.   I also knew that it was advisable to take a probiotic at the same time as the antibiotic to overcome the unwanted side effects.   However the reason for these measures has now become clear to me.

Unfortunately antibiotics do not discriminate between the healthy bacteria in your gut and the unhealthy bacteria, resulting in healthy bacteria being depleted when one takes a course of antibiotics.  This problem can be rectified by ingesting the probiotics to regain the optimal levels. Ultimately it is a delicate balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria which determines one’s state of health.

Gershon and The Second Brain

Michael Gershon is a neurobiologist, so one would imagine that he studies the brain.   However he has discovered the enteric nervous system which is present in the gut leading to him writing a book called The Second Brain.  Neurogastroenterology has become a highly specialised field which enhances the ongoing understanding of the mind and the body’s interactions.

It is now known that the ugly gut is more intellectual than the heart.   In fact it could be said to have the capacity for feeling.   What is more it has the capacity to mediate reflexes in the complete absence of input from the brain or the spinal cord.   Would you believe that there are more than a hundred million nerve cells in the human small intestine?   This number is almost equal to the quantity of nerve cells in the spinal cord.

Saliva and David Wong

David Wong of UCCLA has been working on the role of saliva as a diagnostic tool for the early detection of cancer.    “We were able to show that salivary diagnostics is just as reliable in lung cancer detection as traditional methods are,” said Dr. Wong. “However, our method is non-invasive, nets quicker results (minutes versus days).”    Dr. Wong never thought he’d be analysing spit when he pursued a dental degree, but now he can’t picture doing anything else.

What the Gut may tell us about Consciousness

As a layman it requires a certain amount of imagination to believe in the multiple role of the gut.   It  is an organ which acts as a digester of food, a second brain,  a potential for rich non-invasive research, as well as a vital source of knowledge of the interaction of the mind and the brain.   Because of these varied capacities it is hypothesised that this knowledge may give us some insight into the ultimate meaning of consciousness!